Director FRANK DARABONT couldn’t help but imagine his production of STEPHEN KING’s THE MIST in good old-fashioned black and white. To him (and KING himself apparently) the story recalled movies like 1955’s IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, a black and white classic crawling with RAY HARRYHAUSEN fueled stop-motion tentacles. He was also inspired by the urgent documentary style of GEORGE ROMERO’s 1968 shoestring juggernaut NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. That tale concerning strangers trapped in a claustrophobic space battling a deadly worldwide threat had obvious similarities to KING’s apocalyptic novella. It’s not surprising that financiers craving coffers of coinage rather than crickets chirping as a response to the film, balked at the idea. DARABONT went ahead with the project, filming in color on a tight schedule, but always keeping his original vision in the back of his mind. Taking a cue from the COEN BROTHERS who filmed THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE in color and than transformed it into B&W in postproduction, DARABONT mused that he might simply do the same in reverse.
The two-disc collector’s edition of THE MIST comes complete with his black and white version of the film. DARABONT states that it is his preferred version and the closest thing you’re going to get to a director’s cut of the film. Couldn’t you simply adjust your television to create the same effect? Perhaps, but it’s important to keep in mind that the director specifically filmed the movie in a way that would best compliment this future transition. In his introduction to this alternate version, DARABONT speaks of the “heightened reality” that B&W inherently offers and reminds us that the only place in the world that we can see this representation of reality is in a black and white film. Whether you are a fan of THE MIST or not, anyone interested in film owes it to themselves to compare the two versions. It’s amazing to note that from the very first scene the tone of the film is drastically altered. My advice is turn off all the lights, blast the sound and prepare for transportation…
After a now stunning white flash electrical storm David Drayton (a never better THOMAS JAYNE) and his son travel with a grudge carrying neighbor (the impeccable ANDRE BRAUGHER) to a nearby supermarket for supplies. Once there, they are waylaid by a supernatural mist that, in B&W, is the visual equivalent to God shaking the world off his etch-a-sketch. It is learned that besides impeding one’s vision, this smoky bank is also host to a variety of fantastic creatures who come from a dimension where they could plausibly use the Necronomicon as a telephone book. The trio is then trapped in the supermarket with the general public, (just think about that for a moment) when the most horrific decision since SOPHIE’S CHOICE is presented: either go outside and be strangled by slithering tentacled appendages or stay in the store and act out a mash-up version of THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and JEAN-PAUL SARTRE’s NO EXIT.
I should point out that it’s come to my attention that some sensitive viewers took offense to some of the vaguely political statements made by certain characters, and the way that religion was represented in this film. I feel for you people and although you can’t hear it, I am playing a tune I composed for you on my violin that some say is the world’s smallest. (Once upon a time movies were allowed to step on a few toes and guess what? They were better back than!) Anyhows, personalities continue to clash like symbols, SHIRLEY JACKSON flavored mob mentality begins to reign and what should be a jolly stomp to the nearby pharmacy to steal painkillers turns into an intense battle that culminates with resident granny FRANCES STERHAGEN channeling RAMBO. Not enough can be said about MARCIA GAY HARDEN’s turn as the irascible Mrs. Carmody. She clearly hit some kind of authentic nerve, because when I saw this theatrically, the audience stood up and cheered at her performance. (O.K., maybe it wasn’t her performance exactly that they were cheering.) To say more could spoil for some the comeuppance of what may be the best love-to-hate character to grace the screen in decades.
All right enough about the plot. You’ll either love or hate the fact that DARABONT goes against genre conventions at every turn, while still saluting and obviously revering horror’s history. The much-debated ending is of the bravest sort and for my money, debatable means good. At the end of the day, you’ll see what ever the hell you want to when you look into THE MIST. Whatever threat it brings, both real or imagined, on screen or off, basically depends on you. If THE MIST does have any real power, besides its monstrous inhabitants, it is a natural ability to literally “cloud” people’s minds. By movies end ask yourself why people made the decisions they did, even the most frustrating and tragic ones can be explained by the character not seeing the forest for the trees, ignoring the bigger picture and assuming that their idea of the truth, based on limited facts was the accurate one. The reality is we all deal with something like THE MIST now and again, a period of confusion where it seems we are surrounded by life’s demons. Funny how a mother, too determined to save her children to involve herself with the social rigmarole of the store, is later shown, kids in tow as a survivor.
Is the black and white version superior? In a lot of ways yes; it’s definitely more atmospheric and whatever glitches that could be detected in the CGI on the big screen are now permanently mended. The use of light and shadow in particular graduates from admirable to awe inspiring. (Check out MARCIA’s lavatory praying scene). But I wouldn’t trade seeing this with a semi-packed audience for the world. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced real audience camaraderie before, but this is one of those too scarce films that supports that kind of reaction. It’s rare that we get to talk about current movies here on Kindertrauma, but not only does THE MIST contain a great TRAUMATOT performance from NATHAN GAMBLE as Drayton’s son, but his journey and it’s sucker punch climax are the likes of which cinema history is made. Now that the film is available to be viewed at home, you can bet your bottom dollar on countless youngsters checking this baby out and sealing its fate as a future TRAUMAFESSION catalyst. I don’t know whether to fear for those young viewers or to be absolutely jealous of what THE MIST, any version, is going to do to their brains.